Episode 186. Is it okay to talk about emotions and animals? Is it anthropomorphic to talk about emotions and animals? Where is the line, between what we see and the story that we build around what we see? And let's talk about emotions and what we observe this week.
Find all show details, including transcripts, at CreatingGreatGroomingDogs.com You can find my online classes at Whole Pet Grooming Academy WholePetNH.com For more information about my Master Groomer Behavior Specialist diploma program, go to MasterGroomerBehaviorSpecialist.com
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[00:00:21] I am Chrissy Neumeier Smith. I'm a Master Groomer Behavior Specialist. I'm a Certified Professional Groomer, a Certified Behavior Consultant for Canines, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. And I'm also the owner of Happy Critters in Nashua, New Hampshire, and an instructor at Whole Pet Grooming Academy.
[00:00:38] So this week we are talking about emotions. I had an entirely different topic started off this week, but it kept circling back to feelings and emotions. And I really wanted to delve into that a little bit deeper before we get into a topic that makes some assumptions that we would be on all on the same page.
[00:01:00] We're not going to be all on the same page. So I decided that I really needed to revisit this particular piece all on its own. We've talked about anthropomorphic before, , which is when we attribute human feelings and desires onto dogs or other animals without really thinking a little bit more basically, what is this animal trying to do?
[00:01:21] So we as humans talk about emotions and feelings, but let me ask you this. Let's consider this. Are we always correct when we try to figure out the why of another person? Oh. Do we always understand why another person is feeling the way they're feeling? , are we good with that? Do we always get it right?
[00:01:45] When we are interacting with another person using shared language, expressing thoughts and feelings, do we always get it right? Hmm, that's interesting, isn't it? do we? Another question. Are we always good at explaining the reason for our own emotions? Are we good at explaining the why of what we're feeling and how that's affecting the way that we're behaving today or yesterday or last week, right?
[00:02:16] Are we good at that? This answer is going to vary from person to person. Some people will be really good at that. , others are constantly trying to work on it. And some are blissfully unaware, but here's something to consider. Ask someone close to you. Ask, maybe it's a parent or a sibling or a spouse or a child.
[00:02:38] Ask someone really close to you. Maybe it's your best friend. Are you good at understanding their point of view when they're trying to explain something to you? Are you good at expressing your own point of view when you're trying to explain how you feel? What you're going to find is that most of us are not great at this.
[00:02:56] We're not very good at figuring out the why of emotions and expressing those emotions and figuring out why we behave the way we do. We observe behavior in the humans around us, but we don't always understand the why. So why are we talking about this? It probably seems a little off topic, doesn't it? But how does this relate to dogs?
[00:03:21] Yeah, but you thought I was getting off track here. Um, the way it relates to dogs is we observe behavior. We see what the dog is doing with their body, but do we always understand why they are doing it? Do we understand the feelings, the emotions being expressed through that behavior? We see the behavior, what is observable to us, but how many of us can correctly guess why the dog is doing it?
[00:03:51] It's not easy. It's not easy. And as we just discussed, even amongst other humans, when we are trying to figure out what another human feels, what another human thinks, and they're literally trying to tell us, We're not good at it, it takes a lot of understanding of humans and of dogs to be able to figure out why a behavior is happening.
[00:04:16] So, maybe it's not so easy. Maybe this takes a ton of time and takes a ton of effort and we aren't used to thinking about it that way. , I will say there was a point in my career when I would have described looking at dogs and what they're doing as I have a feeling about why he's doing it. I have a feeling about why he's doing it.
[00:04:38] All right. I think many of us do that. I have a feeling. But here's the thing I was watching what the dog was doing. And now that I've really been training my eye to watch what they're doing and think about what they're responding to. Now I realized that I didn't have a feeling. I was noticing things in the environment, noticing things about a dog and what they were doing and maybe making correct assumptions, right?
[00:05:07] Or making assumptions and maybe they were incorrect assumptions. But that's the tricky part. We're observing body language. We're watching. We're listening. Sometimes we're smelling, right? Anal gland smell. Oh, that's a definite signal. That's not a happy moment most of the time if they spray their anal glands.
[00:05:28] But you think about all of those things that we observe, but are we good at understanding why? And we're not really good at it, even with other human beings that we talk to that are literally trying to tell us. Well, the dog is literally trying to tell us also. Now I want you to think about we're viewing what the dog is doing, and we're trying to guess at why they're doing it.
[00:05:55] And I want you to start thinking about gathering clues. Gathering clues about the behavior before we make assumptions about how a dog feels before we start jumping into, I think this is going on or this is going on. This dog is an individual just like we are. And we have to think about what is this dog responding to?
[00:06:15] What is happening in that moment? , and what kind of emotions might this dog be having based on what is happening? Okay. Dogs have emotions. I think we can all observe a dog who is scared, a dog who is fearful, a dog who is happy. Come on. We know they have emotions. The problem comes in when we try to, make our stories around what we think that emotion is caused by.
[00:06:47] That's where anthropomorphism comes in is when we're trying to say, well, he's happy , and that isn't always a bad thing. He's happy because we do need to kind of ask that question. The problem is, is if we're not on target, if we're trying to say, well, he did this because, or he did that because, then that's where the emotion part can become really kind of a blurred line.
[00:07:14] , and while they have emotions. And , I think that we can all agree if you've worked with dogs, you've seen a variety of emotions we respond to different emotions differently. So there is some worry when we think a dog is, let's say, angry at us. How are we going to respond to that animal? We're probably going to be defensive, right?
[00:07:40] How do we respond to other humans when we think they're angry at us? Right? Um, now if we respond to a dog thinking he seems stressed, then it becomes clearer that we are going to try to help them calm down. I'm going to give some examples here. I know I'm always giving examples and I feel like I'm spending my whole life saying I'm going to give some examples here.
[00:08:04] , a human customer comes into your office and she is upset. Always understand why. Maybe we think that person is mean, that person is cranky, that person is, let's see, what other terms might we use? Some of the terms get really mean, right? But are we really good at noticing that this person is running late for something?
[00:08:29] , is very, very stressed out, , is confused. Maybe they're really confused, but I do brush him. I don't understand what you're talking about. Now they're being defensive and you're being defensive and it all falls apart. Customer service stuff is also about thinking about the other side of the story, the why, why.
[00:08:52] Is this customer having difficulty today? Like I said, it is not cut and dry. This is not easy for most of us to get a good read on why a behavior is happening and what emotions they are around it. So when we look at that customer, , maybe we're looking at her thinking she is really cranky. She is really mean. And is that really the motivation? Is she just a cranky person? That could be true. Okay. I think we know there are a lot of people out there who are just playing cranky, but why, why? I love people. I know a lot of groomers don't.
[00:09:33] , I see those cranky people and they often become my really good customers. Cause I think about why I think about why the cranky, , what is this person responding to? And that's what we need to do with our dogs. If we see something that we interpret as an emotion, step back for a minute and instead think, what is this dog responding to?
[00:09:54] And why, why is this happening? Because if we assume that a dog is angry, Or we start making big stories, that can really lead us down a path that doesn't make any sense. And next thing you know, you and the dog are in conflict of some sort when it didn't need to be. So in the next part, we are going to talk about where communication can really go wrong.
[00:10:18] If you're enjoying the show, please remember to follow or subscribe or like wherever it is you are. The show is on YouTube, so you can watch it as videos. It's as a podcast, so you can just listen to the audio. And to find any of those things, go to CreatingGreatGroomingDogs. com, where you can also find full transcripts.
[00:10:38] Well, since I started doing transcripts, you can find full transcripts. Um, there are a lot of other things there. There are a couple of blog posts, CreatingGreatGroomingDogs. com. When we talk about how we are figuring out what a dog wants or needs, when we're figuring out those emotions, we have some old myths in the dog world that affect us and that affects how we interpret what we see.
[00:11:05] And I say we. Because it is part of our society and our culture at this point. Maybe you don't, but others around us do. And it's good for us to understand that. So what am I talking about? The long held belief that dogs are trying to take over. That dogs are trying to test their boundaries, test our limits.
[00:11:27] They're trying to see if you're really in charge. That all of these behaviors could simply be changed if you were a more assertive leader. I'm not going to say that those things can't be true. All right? Perhaps some of those things are happening for some of our dogs, some of the time. But, dang it all to heck, it is so often the first thing that people jump to.
[00:11:52] It's so often the first thing, yet if we think back, are most dogs trying to take over the world? No, it's a really long held myth, but it does affect the lens that we look through when we're looking at their behavior. Okay, so I'm going to give a couple of examples here. , She's trying to get me to stop, and I can't let her win.
[00:12:19] Oh, we hear that a lot in grooming, don't we? Is this dog trying to win? What an interesting thought. As if this is a battle, and the dog is like, You are not allowed to do this to me. Maybe that's true. Okay, that could be true. But, what if we think first about maybe this dog is frightened? Maybe this dog is scared, maybe this dog is physically uncomfortable, and yet we're forcing because we think this dog is just being persnickety.
[00:12:54] This dog is just trying to win, and I'm not putting up with it. Right? Ooh, think about that. We have to step back from some of our assumptions about why dogs do things. All right. And that's a real quote, the she's trying to, to get me to stop and I can't let her win real quote from lots and lots of different places.
[00:13:16] The fact of the matter is, yes, the dog is trying to get you to stop doing something, but why? Why? Probably not because they're trying to take over the world. That's probably not it. So when we think about, , the different things that could be happening in that moment. So let's say, we have a dog that's screaming in the tub.
[00:13:38] What is going on in that moment? Well, first let's ask a question. What is screaming? Hmm. All right. What is that? What does that look like? My interpretation of a dog screaming might be different than your interpretation of a dog screaming. Is this a dog that is barking? Is this a dog that does that weird little yodel thing?
[00:13:59] , and then to think about why, why. What else is happening in that room? Is that a dog whose owner is at the windows, tapping at the windows, and the dog is trying to like, call out to their owner? You know, the owner who's trying to be helpful by chanting things like, chanting the dog's name and saying, sit.
[00:14:20] , if you're an owner listening to this, your groomer very rarely wants your dog to sit. Telling your dog to sit is really not helpful. Yet, they all do it. So, you know, why is the dog doing it? We have to think about why, right? We can see that there's an emotion happening. But we can't interpret it well until we ask why.
[00:14:43] So I want you to think about some of the things that we see. So screaming, maybe that's just a dog who's barking. Maybe that's this dog's particular bark. Maybe this dog is really excited. Um, maybe this dog is really frightened. We make up stories around that before we really take a critical eye and take a look.
[00:15:03] So let's talk about some more stories because stories are fun. , And it'll help you think about, Oh, wait, what are we really seeing? What are we really seeing? That's the thing. Dogs have emotions, but are they vengeance and jealousy probably not. Let's look more about what they are responding to, especially in grooming, because dogs find grooming to be difficult because they find it unpleasant, uncomfortable, and or scary.
[00:15:32] So at every turn, if it's something happening in grooming, I want you to think, is this dog finding it unpleasant? Uncomfortable and or scary because that's usually it. It's not usually, how dare you and even when it is. It's because they find it unpleasant, uncomfortable, and or scary. So our solutions are going to be to try to make the dog calm, comfortable, and cooperative.
[00:15:55] I know you're sick of hearing it. That's okay. We're just going to keep saying it. So let's talk about another story. I had a customer who came to me because her dog was spending lots and lots of time in a crate while the kids were all out because she had, , a number of children in her house. Some of them were daycare kids and, he was just too, too silly around them.
[00:16:17] But at night she was trying to get him enough exercise and working with them while the kids were in bed. But her biggest concern was that he was growling at the pictures of her children on the wall because he was jealous. And those are her babies. And he's jealous cause he's in a crate all day. And he stares at those pictures up on the wall and growls at them when they're sitting on the couch at night after the kids have gone to bed.
[00:16:43] All right. Is that jealousy? Hmm. Yeah, probably not. And I was at her house and I'm like, he's hearing something in the wall, you know, she was so offended. I don't have anything in my wall. Like, Oh, he's hearing something in the wall. He's looking up at a point on the wall and growling. And it's a very old house.
[00:17:04] And I lived in a very old house too at that time. Like, listen, there could be things in the wall. He's hearing something. There is no way on God's green earth. That your dog is looking at pictures of children and being jealous, yet that's the story she wrote about behavior that she was experiencing. The behavior that she was seeing is that he was very, very jealous.
[00:17:30] , she didn't like my answer. She wanted to hold onto the idea. That he was growling at pictures of her children. Okay. We joke about things like that because it seems extreme, but that was someone's point of view. And what it really says is more about what we think is going on and what we're maybe feeling about this dog, right?
[00:17:53] There's another one, , this was a story about a dog who, they left him at home for the first time all day and he was in a crate and he gone out at lunchtime back in the crate. And it was the first time they'd really left this puppy alone. And he was angry at them and got back at them by pulling that precious grandma's quilt into his cage and ripped it apart.
[00:18:16] Does that sound like anger and jealousy and spite? And getting even, right? I think that the anthropomorphic part is when we start trying to make up a story about the behavior we see. That dog pulled something into the crate and chewed on it all day. Maybe this dog was stressed, maybe this dog was bored.
[00:18:41] But it was probably not targeting something particularly precious. Well, he could have grabbed a different blanket, but he grabbed grandma's quilt. Probably not thinking about, well, this quilt is far more valuable to the humans around me. Right? We make up crazy stories, right? And, and we try to see from an animal's point of view.
[00:19:06] Now, let me ask you this. When they got home. If they were thinking that this dog intentionally grabbed something far more precious than the other things in reach and ripped it apart because he was angry and wanted to get even, how do you suppose they interacted with that dog when they got home and they saw this all play out?
[00:19:29] We can be really, really hostile when we start assuming we know why a dog did something. Let's instead think about why is this dog feeling a need to chew things while we're gone? Why? Why? What's going on? In this particular case, I think the dog was probably bored. They didn't have any toys in their form.
[00:19:55] He just thought they would just take a nap all day, probably just pulled it in to chew on something. Perhaps this dog was stressed. We do know that they have emotions like fear, anxiety, stress, happiness, sadness, right? We can see all of those things, but we need to think about, really step back from our feelings about the whole story.
[00:20:15] and see what they're trying to tell us. Here is another one. , I remember somebody trying to walk their dog into a grooming shop and the dog curled up in a ball, curled up in a ball, really, really tight on the floor, refusing to move. Is that a dog who is being stubborn? I refuse to go in there.
[00:20:38] Right? Or is that a dog who, when they curl up in a ball, the body language of curling up in a ball is, I am afraid. I'm afraid! That's what curling up in a ball means. Curling up in a ball is I'm scared. So, how can you be scared and, and also stubborn and trying to take over the world? If a dog is frightened, we should be trying to help them be calm.
[00:21:06] And then all of our problems can be looked at differently. How can I help this dog calm down? How can I help this dog feel more comfortable? But if you assume that the dog is being stubborn, what is an owner likely to do? In this case, the owner was getting more and more angry. And this dog was becoming more and more afraid.
[00:21:25] It's really common. This is the cycle. So we know that animals have emotions, but we also have to think about, are we interpreting those emotions through very human eyes? And like I said, we are not good at interpreting emotions with other people, other people who are literally talking to us in a language we share, texting us.
[00:21:50] Who, you know, how often do you misinterpret something is like, wow, he was really, really mean. Was she, was she, hmm, interesting. Can we see both sides? And I'll tell you what, it's a skillset and it's something that we should be thinking about. So when we talk about emotions with our dogs, we have to step back from the story that we're writing.
[00:22:15] Don't write a story about it yet. And think, what is it that I'm seeing?
[00:22:20] What am I seeing? And even, I want you to pause and think about this for emotions, even if a dog is angry, it's because he's uncomfortable with something. Even if a dog is being overtly aggressive toward us, because they're not comfortable, right? They feel threatened. Hmm. Wait, feeling threatened? Does feeling threatened feel comfortable?
[00:22:47] No, it's not. Is it pleasant for any of us? The dog is not having a pleasant time because they feel like they feel like they're being threatened. , it doesn't mean that every dog is going to show fear as, as cowering. Some dogs show it as a big aggressive display, but usually the problems that we're seeing in dog grooming.
[00:23:09] Are because the dog finds it unpleasant, uncomfortable, and or scary. And it's up to us to try to figure out what part of what's going on made them feel that way. And can we help them be, um, comfortable and cooperative? If you're enjoying the show, please remember to like subscribe, follow, go to creating great grooming, dog.
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